Why You Should Eat Before Your Workout

Are you starting to train for a fall half marathon? Do you wake up early to hit the gym, but struggle with knowing what to eat before and after? What you consume before your workouts is almost as important as the workout itself! If you aren’t fueling properly, it’s likely your performance will suffer and you won’t reap the full benefits of the workout. Here’s how to fuel your fitness with nourishing nutrition!

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Pre-Workout Nutrition Tips for Endurance Events

If you’re training for an event longer than an hour in duration, it’s crucial you have some fuel beforehand in order to help with energy levels and performance! Without any fuel before a long endurance event, whether it’s a run, bike ride, or swim, you will likely bonk. Eating before a long workout gives your body energy, especially if you are working out early in the morning. 

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What to Eat Before Workouts

There isn’t a cookie cutter answer to what exactly to eat before your long run. Part of your training should be to figure out what fuel feels best in your stomach. If you feel sloshing, the urge to use the restroom, or cramping after eating a certain food, it might not be the best choice or you ate it too close to your workout! Some people can eat a huge meal before a run or bike ride and be fine, while others feel the food in their stomach the entire time. It’s important to practice with every long workout so that you’re ready on race day! 

Consume a carbohydrate based snack or light meal 1-2 hours prior to an endurance workout. Why carbs? Carbohydrates fuel your “engine” (i.e. your muscles) and the harder your engine is working, the more carbs you need to keep going! The primary source of energy your body uses for workouts is carbohydrates. 

After burning through what is readily available in your bloodstream, your body moves on to your carbohydrate stores — the glycogen (stored carbohydrates) in your muscles and liver. For low intensity exercise, these stores can last as long as 90 minutes. For prolonged high intensity exercise, glycogen stores can provide energy for approximately 20-30 minutes.                                                                                                 

The goal is to aim for a pre-workout meal that is lower in fat, protein, and fiber. These all slow digestion, taking anywhere from 3-4 hours at a time to fully digest. Also, while your muscles are working hard, your stomach is also simultaneously trying to digest, which are competing demands and don’t provide optimal performance. So unless you wake up at 4am to eat a big breakfast for your 7am run, you want to avoid these as they may upset your stomach when you start moving.

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Ask yourself these questions to determine how much and what to eat pre-workout:

Q: What time of day do I typically workout?

A: If you’re a morning exerciser, it’s best to have a simple snack that is carbohydrate based, like a piece of fruit or slice of toast, giving yourself at least 15 minutes to digest. If you workout in the afternoon, think about the last time you ate: was it a big meal? Was it within three hours of your workout? If you feel full still, it’s ok to skip the pre-workout snack. But if you are an athlete with heavy training on the docket, add in a serving of carbs (i.e. 1 cup of cereal, 1 piece of fruit, 3 cups of popcorn) before your workout. 

Q: How is my energy level before a workout? 

A: If your energy level is low, add in a carbohydrate based snack or meal. If you’re feeling great, you likely ate earlier and are still digesting that food, providing fuel for your workout!

Q: Do I have food sensitivities or GI issues during workouts?

A: If you always have to find the nearest bathroom during your long run when nature calls, it's important to pick a low-fiber and very low-fat pre-workout snack or meal so you don't have to stop. Avoid whole-grains and high-fiber foods, and try to eat at least 2 hours before your workout. If you have a fast metabolism and get hungry every two hours, have your low-fiber/low-fat meal and then top off with a sports nutrition supplement, like a gel, 15 minutes before your workout. 

Pre-Workout Foods

Choose carbohydrate based foods with a small amount of protein before a workout

  • Fruits or dried fruits

  • Peanut butter and jelly/honey on a piece of bread, bagel, or waffle

  • Fruit smoothie (no more than 12 oz)

  • Oatmeal with brown sugar or berries or banana on top

  • Cereal with ½ cup milk

  • A light meal rich in carbs and protein, with fat at a minimum

Want to learn more about what or how much you should eat before a workout? Check out my in-person services if you're located in the Florida/Alabama Gulf Coast region or virtual services here !